Outdoor Recreation in Utah During the Coronavirus

The State of Utah is home to the “Mighty Five” National Parks, three National Monuments, and vast acres of public lands with an abundance of recreation opportunities. All of these uniquely beautiful places are an escape for many residents of the Salt Lake Valley and during the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, it may seem especially intriguing to visit these places. However, public health officials and locals of rural gateway towns to recreational hotspots are asking for visitors to stay away to prevent the spread of the virus.

Photo of East Zion Canyon by Quinn Graves

As of now, many of Utah’s state and national parks remain open. Yet, the threat of introducing the coronavirus to a small, rural community like Moab or Springdale, UT, will quickly overburden their local healthcare systems. For example, Moab only has four ventilators and one portable unit. Because this virus attacks the lungs and can compromise a person’s ability to breathe, patients in serious conditions are put on ventilators to deliver air to their lungs. Simply put, rural communities do not have the medical resources available to handle an outbreak of coronavirus.

Here is a list of the status of some of Utah’s national parks and monuments as of March 18th, 2020:

  • Dinosaur National Monument is completely closed.
  • Moab is not allowing overnight tourism until further notice.
  • The Southeastern Utah Health Department is not allowing anyone besides locals and people traveling for work to stay in Carbon, Emery, and Grand counties, where Moab is located. This restriction includes camping.
    • All three counties in Southeastern Utah have restricted the check-in of new guests to overnight lodging facilities. Only people traveling for work will be able to stay. 
  • Zion has stopped shuttle services in Springdale and the Park.
    • People can drive the scenic roadway only until parking is full.
    • Visitor centers have closed and only virtual visitor centers are available.
  • The Capitol Reef visitor center, bookstore, and Gifford center are closed.
  • Bryce Canyon in-person visitor centers are closed and they have created a virtual visitor center.

The status of all openings and closures of Parks and Monuments are changing day-to-day.

Right now, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has explained that Nonpharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs), or community mitigation strategies are the most important response to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Examples of NPIs are staying home, being socially distant, and practicing extremely good hygiene. In short, we should not take this time to travel to rural areas or go on an extended road trip.

What about recreation in the Central Wasatch?

Going outside has been shown to reduce stress hormones and promote overall health, which is especially crucial right now. Although ski resorts and climbing gyms are closed, this is not an

Photo taken in Big Cottonwood Canyon by Carly Lansche.

invitation to meet up with a group of people to get outside close to home in the Central Wasatch. Social distancing and self-isolation are just as important while recreating outside as it is when you’re grocery shopping or doing other every-day tasks in public spaces. 

Now is not the time to take risks. Local healthcare services need to stay focused on the current pandemic. Today, there may be enough capacity in the local hospitals to help if you find yourself injured while skiing, climbing, running, etc. Yet, in the coming days and weeks, hospital capacity may struggle to accommodate additional emergency services.  For example, if you break an arm while climbing outdoors next week, you will be further overburdening the healthcare system and immediate surgery may not be available. Let’s all do our part to not add to the caseloads medical workers are currently addressing, and allow healthcare workers to dedicate their time and resources to testing and treating people for COVID-19.

If you are feeling unwell, please stay home. Do not put others at risk by going out to recreate if you feel sick. If you have questions about the coronavirus or think you may have been exposed to the virus, please do not go to a healthcare provider. Instead, call the Utah Coronavirus Hotline at 1-800-456-7707.


Information gathered from 







Heading photo of Big Cottonwood Canyon from Carly Lansche

Written by Quinn Graves

Edited by Lindsey Nielsen

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